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Review

For King and Country: 150 Years of the Royal Westminster Regiment

By Robert M. Harley, editor

March 6, 2014

Review By James Wood

The setting sun of the British Columbia flag provides a fitting background for the regimental colours of the Royal Westminster Regiment. Authorized in 1863 by Governor James Douglas as the New Westminster Volunteer Rifles, in 1910 it became the 104th Regiment, Westminster Fusiliers of Canada. In For King and Country, editor Rob Harley has amassed an impressive collection of operational detail, weaponry, awards, medals, and ceremonies to illustrate the regiment’s century and a half of service to the British Empire and Canada in this province and overseas.

The book’s title, a translation of the regimental motto pro rege et patria, captures the unit’s imperial ties. Twenty-nine volunteers from New Westminster served in the Boer War from 1899-1901. In 1914, volunteers from the 104th Regiment went overseas, serving mainly in the 47th and 131st Battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In the Second World War, the Westminster Regiment earned a reputation as a highly efficient fighting organization, first as a Machine Gun and then as a Motor support unit with the 5th Canadian Armoured Division in the Melfa River region of Italy and in North West Europe.

Harley’s focus on the importance of tradition also highlights a series of royal visits in which the regiment played a prominent role: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1951 and 1983, the Queen and Princess Anne in 1971 to celebrate the centennial of British Columbia’s entry into Confederation, and Princess Alexandra’s visit in 1967 on behalf of the Queen to recognize the great honour of the unit’s designation as the Royal Westminster Regiment. Further excitement accompanied visits by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, whose brother Donald had served with the 47th Battalion in the Great War, and in 1994 and 2010 by the Duke of Westminster, the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief. Harley also examines the unit’s participation in the Korean War and its continuing support of multinational NATO and UN campaigns, including Cypress, Greece, Egypt, the Golan Heights, the former Yugoslavia, and finally, Afghanistan.

For those interested in BC social or military history, excellent data is found in the final 120 pages of For King and Country, including embarkation rolls from the New Westminster area from the time of the Boer War to the Second World War, including next of kin, addresses, nation of birth, former militia unit, and occupation prior to enlistment. For King and Country also emphasizes the Canadian militia’s links to the community. In particular, the unit’s association with Holy Trinity Cathedral represents a relationship that predates Confederation. Regimental sports teams, especially the lacrosse “Salmonbellies,” date back to the early 1900s and continue through to the Afghanistan era. The New Westminster Armoury, built in 1895 and today used for both community and militia events, is believed to be the oldest wooden armoury in Canada still in use. In 2013 the Royal Westminster Regiment celebrated its distinguished sesquicentennial as the longest serving military formation in British Columbia.

The strong community-regimental connections illustrated in For King and Country complement other recently published histories of local regiments, such as Swift and Strong: The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) by Ron Leblanc et al., 2011 and Vancouver’s Bessborough Armoury: a History, edited by R. Victor Stevenson, 2010. Although Harley’s work does not present the same wealth of personal journals or wartime reflections found throughout Swift and Strong, nor the extensive primary research found and emphasis on changing urban landscapes found in Vancouver’s Bessborough Armoury, it certainly complements these recent studies of the lower Fraser Valley’s military heritage. Harley’s extensive personal collection of cap and collar badges, uniforms, the regimental flag, royal gift boxes to the soldiers, and a variety of weapons, both Allied and German, provides the core for this pictorial history.

Harley poignantly captures the proud spirit of the Royal Westminster Regiment through his coverage of the funeral of Master Corporal Colin Bason, killed in action by an improvised explosive device detonated in Afghanistan, 7 July 2007. In his home community of Aldergrove, BC, members of Bason’s unit refurbished a vintage Bren Gun carrier to transport his remains through the city streets to his church. The ceremony honoured the contributions of this young soldier in a way that showed the love and respect of his comrades. Books such as For King and Country also reflect the dedication and sense of duty that form an essential part of every serving regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces. 

For King and Country: 150 Years of the Royal Westminster Regiment
Robert M. Harley, editor
New Westminster: Vivalogue, 2012. 328 pp. $84.00 cloth